So last Sunday I volunteered to work on the backup timing committee at Head of the Charles. I was stationed at the Cambridge Boat Club, near the finish of the race. The race has 2 computerized timing systems and a manual system, and the results from all 3 are compared before final times are released shortly after each race. Occasionally the computerized system would miss a boat, at which point it was backup timing’s time to shine. I was told my job would involve getting a piece of paper with times on it from a fax machine, looking it over, and handing it to some people who would then enter the times. Little did I know that I would also witness crazy rowing carnage first hand.

To begin with, an old guy flipped his single early in the morning when no lauches were out and was swimming around in the river for 10 minutes in 35 degree temperatures. Then later on in a youth race a boat lost it’s skeg and its ability to steer, and had to drop out at CBC. The coxswain was very upset and was crying for a long time.

Then came the mens collegiate eights. Colgate hit the Elliot bridge going full speed. No traffic or anything…looked like a few rowers almost got ejected from the boat! It wasn’t a head on hit, but it was hard enough that resue boats were sent out, although it looked like everyone was ok. A couple of other boats nearly hit the bridge footings head on, but bailed and took the right arch. Then all of a sudden we notice this boat with it’s bow riding dangerously low in the water. With each stroke the boat is plunging deeper into the water, like a submarine. Just before they reach the bridge, water is spilling over the splash guard, and the bow seat is waist deep in water. One or two more strokes puts the boat directly under the bridge, where it swamps and stops and the rowers get slammed in the face by oars from a passing boat which could not get out of the way. More boats are making the Elliot bridge turn, and simply can’t see what’s going on until it’s too late. Boats are hitting the breaks, hitting each other, scraping the bridge, and narrowly missing launches that were picking up the now swimming rowers. The best part is that the coxswain was my friend Amy Sun from MIT Rowing Club, filling in at the last minute because she speaks Mandarin and the Chineese coxswain had visa problems. You can read more about it here.

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